Washington, D.C. – At the request of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, experts from the American Institutes for Research (AIR), have submitted written testimony to the Senate panel on the status of K-12 school turnaround models.
The testimony, prepared Dr. Rebecca Herman, Dr. Kerstin Carlson Le Floch, Dr. Daniel Aladjem and Dr. Beatrice Birman, summarized recent and ongoing research studies conducted by AIR and others for the U.S. Department of Education on school turnaround.
AIR’s experts found mixed results for the research supporting each of the four intervention models outlined in final rules for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). It further suggests that while turning around chronically low-performing schools and sustaining improvement strategies is difficult, the intervention models as described are likely to include practices that have some support in research on school improvement.
In 2009, the U.S. Department of Education announced a dramatic increase to the funding that would be provided to state education agencies (SEAs) under Section 1003(g) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). In order to receive funds through the School Improvement Grants (SIG) program, SEAs are required to channel funds to local education agencies (LEAs) for their persistently lowest-achieving schools to support rapid improvement through four intervention models:
- Turnaround model: The LEA replaces the principal and rehires no more than 50% of the staff; gives greater principal autonomy; and implements other prescribed and recommended strategies, often changing the core elements of the school.
- Restart model: The LEA converts or closes and reopens a school under a charter school operator, charter management organization, or education management organization.
- School closure: The LEA closes the school and enrolls the students in other schools in the LEA, with the intent of providing different – and better – educational experiences for the students.
- Transformation model: Similar to the turnaround model, the LEA replaces the principal (except in specified situations); implements a rigorous staff evaluation and development system; institutes comprehensive instructional reform; increases learning time and applies community-oriented school strategies; and provides greater operational flexibility and support for the school. There is more emphasis on keeping the existing teachers and holding them accountable for student learning through new teacher evaluation systems that use student growth as a measure of performance.
The testimony notes that while the models themselves are relatively new and have limited rigorous research, the strategies that are part of the models build on earlier research. The mechanisms may differ, but all four models imply changing students’ learning experiences by one or a combination of practices. Based on this summary, AIR’s testimony made the following key points:
- The research base supporting each of the four intervention models is mixed. Each has supporting evidence and evidence about conditions that correspond to positive effects.
- The intervention models as described are likely to include practices that have some support in research on school improvement. These include: changing principals, changing curriculum and instruction, providing flexibility, ensuring job-embedded professional development, providing social-emotional supports, and encouraging quick wins.
- Turning around chronically low-performing schools is fraught with challenges that can easily undermine success. These challenges include: leadership turnover, limited district and state capacity, a lack of high-caliber teachers, and matching the intervention practices to school needs. Case studies provide some examples of how schools have overcome these challenges.
- The research indicates that the quality and level of implementation is critical to successful school improvement. How the practices are implemented, their coherence, and their fit with school needs may spell the difference between success and failure.
The testimony also notes that in considering the four school turnaround models, the turnaround and transformation models involve wraparound services to meet students’ nonacademic needs that affect their potential to learn. An additional challenge is the sustainability of improvement strategies over time; many schools in the research studies have struggled to sustain high achievement levels after initial gains.
The full testimony is available on www.air.org.
Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education and workforce productivity. For more information, visit www.air.org.